Monday morning slapped me in the face and berated me for drinking whisky. I wasn’t in bad shape but I needed to be in much better shape. I quickly learned that espresso wasn’t going to give me any help with a hangover. Sitting at my desk I quickly composed a schedule for the day but was disappointed to find that a day only had twenty four hours. I had various managerial duties to complete, like getting papers to the accountant and lawyer and paying some bills. I had some personal duties to complete like showering and laundry. Finally, I had some chef’s duties to complete – specifically the miracle of getting seventeen hours of cooking done in less than eight hours if I wanted to sleep that night.
I began rearranging the prep list for better efficiency. Suddenly I realized I also had to get groceries. I got the managerial duties over with as quickly as possible. I drove to my apartment and ran a load of laundry through the washer while I took a shower. I threw the clothes into the dryer and then raced to the grocery store. I ran up and down the aisles of the grocery store like a maniac. I picked up my laundry on my way from the grocery store to the restaurant. By the time I got back to the restaurant and got everything unloaded and put away, it was 2 p.m.
I worked my way feverishly through the prep list. I decided that since I had both Jeffrey and Marty coming in I could leave most of the dishes for them to do in the morning. I had a few salad dressings left from the week before and I was incredibly happy to stroke them off the list without losing a minute. I realized that anything with a shelf life of well over a week should have been made during the previous week. There was absolutely no reason for me to be boiling up a new batch of simple syrup during Monday mayhem. Then I wondered how I would ever find the time during the week to prepare such things ahead of schedule.
By the time I had worked my way through the entire list it was 4:00 a.m. I had time for about two or maybe two and a half hours of sleep. I opted to sleep in my office chair with my head on my desk to make sure that I wouldn’t slip too deeply out of consciousness to be resurrected again for opening. That small amount of un-restful and uncomfortable slumber, however, turned out to be worse than no sleep at all and not even the potent elixir, espresso, could provide me absolution.
I completed the pre-opening list, switched on the damn sign and waited for the coffee row parasites to arrive. I wondered why I had even bothered to bake muffins or make hot cereal. The well dressed woman with coal black hair and brilliant, icy blue eyes walked in and ordered her white mocha. A few hours later the leeches, lead by Lyle, arrived and began guzzling coffee. By the time Marty and Jeffrey arrived I was delighted to have solid proof that I wasn’t living in an endlessly looped recording of hell.
They both took turns working the dish pit while I cooked lunch. Lunch was transferred up front to hot holding, the Flintstone Whistle wailed through the cold icy streets, Humbuggers came in and asked for ‘SUPE’ and by 1:30 p.m. Jeffrey, Marty and I were alone in the store. Jeffrey and Marty hit it off quite well and got to know each other a bit as they cleaned up after lunch.
I had a chat with them about the schedule and it was decided that Marty would work from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. for the rest of the week and that Jeffrey wouldn’t come back until Friday. Jeffrey didn’t actually need many hours since he was really only in Humbug to complete his training as a pastor. As usual, Jeffrey left at 2:00 p.m. Marty and I were left alone in the store and the big gangly country boy just stood and blinked at me like a tall blonde ostrich.
“So,” I said, “what were you doing before working here?”
“Well, I spent the last six months in a monastery,” he replied.
“A what?” I exclaimed.
“For real,” he replied.
“Wow, I didn’t know there were still monasteries.”
“There aren’t many, but there’s one about 20 miles north of town.”
“For real?” I asked, incredulously.
“For real,” he replied.
We stood in silence for a while and he continued to blink like a big blonde ostrich. He showed absolutely no signs of cracking a smile and I actually began to believe him. I knew before hiring Jeffrey that he was a pastor, but I wondered what the odds might be of also unwittingly hiring a monk. I decided to test him.
“So,” I said, “what do you do in a monastery?”
“Not much. Try to find inner peace, I guess,” he replied.
“Wow,” I said, for there really wasn’t anything else to say.
This kid seemed to be dead serious about this. I’ve done a lot of things in my life, and I’ve met a lot of different kinds of people, but I had never before met an actual bona fide monk. I have to say that I was intrigued.
“So what lead to you becoming a monk?”
“A brother, actually.”
“Ok, what lead to you becoming a brother?”
“I didn’t think I had much choice.”
“Called to it? Something like that?”
“No. It seemed I either had to do that or leave and never see my family again.”
“You gotta be shitting me!”
“If that upsets you I can leave. I just feel a need to be honest about it.”
“Upsets me? Fuck no! This is great!”
“Well,” I explained, “I was actually kind of hoping that you were gay.”
“Having a gay barista is really classy!”
“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to stereotype - but the stereotype is that a gay barista is cool.”
“You gotta be shtting me!” he exclaimed.
“I shit you not!”
He went on to tell me an incredible story. In the small town where he grew up, smaller than Humbug, he had never seen a gay man. He knew he was ‘different’ but had no idea that there were other people in the world like himself. His introduction to the concept of homosexuality was exclusively through his church and he was told such people were dirty filthy perverts. This is what he believed. He actually believed that he was a dirty, filthy pervert. Worse yet, he was told that homosexuals were the same as pedophiles and he was horrified at the thought that if he married a woman and fathered children he would end up molesting them.
As the afternoon coffee customers came in we moved our conversation to the kitchen. We took turns dealing with customers and brewing fresh pots of coffee and then returning to the kitchen to continue what was turning into a fascinating conversation for both of us. As he opened up more and more, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. This poor kid had been raised to believe that he was a vile despicable pervert who was destined to destroy the lives of innocent children. As I reacted, he couldn’t believe what he was hearing – that I didn’t think he was a vile despicable pervert.
He joined the monastery believing that a life devoted to the church would curb his sexual appetite and provide him with the only path on which he would avoid shaming his entire family. His parents were extremely devout Catholics and he couldn’t imagine any other existence that would allow him to maintain any sort of relationship with them. His parent’s pride at his decision to become a brother only fueled his dedication to the monastic lifestyle.
Meanwhile, the customers had come and had gone and so too had closing time. We switched off the ‘OPEN’ sign and continued our conversation as we finished the dishes and putting away the food. Finally I couldn’t resist any longer and I had to ask.
“So, what lead to you leaving the monastery?”
“Well,” he said as he fidgeted, “that’s a tough one.”
“You can’t stop now, Marty. I’m sorry but I have to know.”
“It was my full disclosure.”
“Before you become a full brother, you have to make full disclosure.”
“So like no secrets at all between brothers?” I asked.
“And they booted you out for being gay?”
“No,” he said, seeming to become rather agitated.
“Hey,” I said, “this is no monastery. You don’t have to make full disclosure here. I’m sorry for prying.”
“No,” he said, “I want to tell you.”
We stood in silence for a while as he stared at the floor. He didn’t look like a big blonde ostrich anymore. He looked like a young boy standing in the shoes of a very troubled man. Finally, he continued.
“I told them I was gay. I told them I had been with other men. I laid on my face on the floor bawling and I told them every single last gory detail. You have no idea what that’s like. It’s something you build up to for months and it’s harder than killing yourself; and I’ve tried that - plenty of times. I don’t know how I got the courage but somehow it all just came pouring out right there on the floor in front of them. At that point I was nothing and I had nothing. I couldn’t even get up – couldn’t even get up on my hands and knees. That’s when they picked me up off the floor and hugged me and told me they understood and it was all ok. They told me it was all ok and that God loved me.”
By this time we were seated in the dining area. We were seated across from each other and I had absolutely no idea what to say. The silence roared in my ears like a jet engine as he stared at the floor into an abyss. After about ten minutes I just reached out and put my shaking hand on his shoulder.
“You see,” I said, “I’m not the only one who thinks you are ok.”
“No,” he said, with anger in his voice, “They didn’t think I was ok.”
“What happened then?” I choked, fearing the sudden change in his voice.
“They told me that they were all there for the same fucking reason,” he sobbed.
“They’re a bunch of fucking homos too!” he sobbed.
“Christ! Are you serious?”
“Yes,” he wailed, “and that’s when things got really fucked up. Oh fuck!”
Up until that point the scariest moment in my life had been my first skydive. I had no idea how I was going to climb out that door but I had trained hard for what was coming. I had no training for this. I felt like I had just beamed into an operating room and I was staring down at an open chest cavity with a beating heart in front of me as a nurse addressed me as doctor while asking me what scalpel I wanted. What could be more fucked up than what he had already told me? I didn’t want to know. Would shutting him down now just damage him more than whatever had happened to him already? Would letting him go on be even worse? Finally the choice was no longer mine because he once again began to speak.
“After that they started coming to my room. These dirty old monks started coming to my fucking room and fucking hitting on me. I told them that Leviticus said, ‘Thou shalt not lie with a man as with a woman.’ But all these fuckers had to say was, ‘we can do it differently then.’ These guys are all just fucking each other in there and making out to be all holy and celibate and shit.”
“You gotta be shittin’ me,” I blurted.
“No, they are just fucking each other!”
“What the fuck? That’s fucked up!”
“No shit,” he agreed, “more than fucked up. I just said fuck this shit – I ain’t fucking no dirty old monks. If I was going to be sinning then I was going to at least find someone I could enjoy sinning with. That’s when I left the monastery and went into Cuspidor to the gay bar.”
“And you met somebody?” I asked.
“Oh, I met a lot of somebodies. I slept around something fierce. For a week I was heading home with all takers, and let me tell you, there were plenty of takers,” he said, using his hands to draw attention to his slender body. For the first time in hours he actually laughed.
I laughed too. He moved his eyebrows up and down as he looked down at himself smiling, obviously proud of his ridiculously slim build. We laughed so hard that it echoed in the empty restaurant. When our laughter finally subsided he sat up straight.
“So you’re really ok with me being gay?” he asked.
“More than ok,” I said.
“Wow,” he said, “I never imagined I could feel this ok with myself.”
“I’m glad – but I hope you won’t go slutting around like that anymore.”
“No. You need to find someone to treat you right.”
“Oh god, now you sound like my mother.”
“Somehow I don’t think so.”
“No, really – it’s just that she wants me to find a girl to make grandchildren with; a good Catholic girl.”
“I hope she won’t be too disappointed.”
Things were looking up for the both of us. I had found myself a gay barista and he had discovered the concept of a progressive work environment with an open minded employer. Neither of us had expected to find such treasures in Humbug. Because of his hard work it had taken no time at all to close up shop. Even after our hours of talking it was only 8:00 p.m. As we left the bistro that night I watched him drive off and wondered what sort of home and parents awaited him.