Lester was a squat, spherical, and pasty line cook with the fleshy bald head and heavy-ringed ears of a genie. Back in his twenties, when he was known as Carnifex, he played drums and hog-screamed in a thrash-metal band—but in our kitchen he was a soft-spoken nonentity, doughy and lethargic even during the rush, responding to insults or demands with a small flavorless smile and nod, line-eyed, inscrutable as a Buddha, seeming somehow less tranquil than tranquilized.
One evening we were shutting down the kitchen together, cleaning in silence, when suddenly he began telling a story. He talked as he scrubbed down the big oven; tired out by the effort, he wheezed every few sentences, but his wheeze sounded like a particularly shrill word, the gasp of an ailing Michael Jackson.
“Weird thing happened last night. Yup yup. Was waiting for the, heeeeeee, for the bus, and this girl comes up to me, and she’s like, really hot—I am not kidding.” He glanced over his shoulder at me, and I jiggled my eyebrows salaciously. “And she says like, her and the girls are having a, heeeeeee, a bachelorette, but yeah, the uh, the guy didn’t show up.” Lester stopped to cough explosively, the coughs booming out through the high-ceilinged kitchen, and it took him a minute to catch his breath. “Friggin’ oven juice, man. That shit’s poison.”
“Why don’t you wear a mask?”
Lester chuckled as if I’d said something witty. “Anyhoo, the chicks are already like half-naked when I get there, and then… so… long story short, I end up plowing five hot girls, man. Yup yup. One’s like on my uh… and the other is like… yeah. It was soooo, heeeeeee, so friggin’ good. …Anything like that ever happen to you?”
“Nope. Anything like that ever happen to you?”
Lester gave me that low-sodium smile and slow vanilla nod. By now he’d climbed out of the oven and was washing his soft pale hands, still murmuring in his soft pale voice.
“But I was just so drunk, you know, and I start missing my dog, so I don’t stick around, heeee, I go home and get into bed with her, and cuddle up right into her fur—and then she farts! And it stinks soooo bad that she wakes up from the stank. Then looks around, moans… and LEAVES! I’m like, ‘Come back here you bitch! Don’t leave me alone!’ But you know dogs—they’re just humans with four legs.” He sighed and tossed his rag into a bucket I’d just emptied. “She’s so soft, man. Having a dog, it’s like…”
“Like having a girlfriend.”